Friday, November 1, 2019

REVIEW: 'Dickinson' - Emily Explores Female Pleasure While Fighting for Her Right to Learn in 'I Have Never Seen Volcanoes'

AppleTV+'s Dickinson - Episode 1.02 "I Have Never Seen Volcanoes"

Women are forbidden at Amherst, so Emily and Sue get creative to attend a lecture.

In 2018, there were 495 scripted shows airing amongst the linear channels and streaming services. The way people are consuming content now is so different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, there is less necessity to provide ample coverage of each specific episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site is making the move to shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the next episode of AppleTV+'s Dickinson.

"I Have Never Seen Volcanoes" was written by Alena Smith & Rachel Axler and directed by David Gordon Green

The modern sensibility of this show helps put into starker context just how little the world has changed since the 1850s regarding gender politics. Emily feels confined by her life. She is continually told what she can't do. She embraces poetry because it's a creative expression of her true self. She wants to explore the world. She fears that she will never leave this town. That's a correct assumption too. This is the life she will forever be trapped within. That doesn't have to be limiting to her though. The world can still be so fulfilling for those who seek the immediate rewards in the pleasures around them in each moment. Emily is alienating her family and making everyone enraged at her. Her mother is filled with thoughts of inadequacy because Edward has hired a maid to do all of the chores for her. Mrs. Dickinson saw those tasks as a women's role to fill in order to sustain a happy marriage and family. That's her perspective on the world. Hiring help is a condemnation on her ability to fulfill her basic role as determined by her gender. There is nothing wrong with a woman who wishes to be defined as a wife and a mother. It is a rewarding profession and one necessary to sustain life. It is such a beautiful thing. It's just not something that Emily wishes to embrace. That should be perfectly okay too. She should have the ability to spread her wings and explore. There is so much foreign to her in this world. She has the potential to learn so much because of the visiting professors at the local university. And yet, that too is a biting statement about how men frequently tell women where to belong. Women are forever being punished for the sins and bad behavior of men. Women aren't allowed on the college campus to take classes because they would be too distracting to the men who are trying to advance their careers. It's a horrifying worldview. One that limits the scope of responsibility placed on men. It's all so cavalier here. It's an expected part of this world. It is accepted in the modern-day as well. It may not be as blunt as it is depicted here. But it's still an argument tossed around constantly. It presents a case where sex and physical temptation are the only value that women can offer to society. And yes, that is a powerful form of expression. Emily connects with the story of a volcano erupting and trapping the citizens of Pompeii forever down below. She too feels like a person just waiting for the right events to occur so that she can erupt. That emerges in a form of intimacy between her and Sue. Female pleasure is rarely seen and never coming from that specific point-of-view. It's always told in a way to further sexualize the male gaze and the problematic behavior of others in the world. Here though, it's presented as a way for Emily to experience a world of possibilities while never leaving the moment between her and Sue. It's powerful and so engaging. She is taking control of her narrative even though she still ultimately fulfills her function of making bread in the kitchen to appease her parents. That highlights the odd tonal shifts constantly present in this world. Emily presents as the only fully-realized character with Hailee Steinfeld as the only transcendent performer. The rest are all stuck in a certain thought or period where the audience is frequently asked to laugh at them. That's not an inherently wrong impulse in comedy. The show just has to be considerate when executing it to ensure that it doesn't become too overwhelming to the show and what the various stakes of the narrative ambitions are. As such, it feels like Emily is the only one capable of growth but she may continually fall into the same pattern over and over again by constantly creating tension within this family that may never fundamentally change at all. That may highlight the monotony of life. But a television show can only do so much with that limited premise.